Apple's latest patent shows it's trying to get its foldable iPhone right

Samsung Galaxy Fold
Samsung Galaxy Fold (Image credit: iMore)

Fold iPhone concept

Fold iPhone concept (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

A new Apple patent appeared earlier today that seems to revolve around the idea that a foldable device could have its display warmed up in some way. Not to make your hands warm while using it, but to prevent that display from breaking. And that, right there, could be huge.

See, foldable devices right now are plastic for all kinds of bendy reasons. Glass doesn't like to be bent, you see, but I have hopes that the idea of warming something up might suggest that Apple has found a way to do it via the application of heat. Or, at least, it plans to use some sort of plastic that is more glass-like and less-plastic-like than what we've seen come before.

Because that plastic screen is what makes for the horrible crease we see on current foldables. And that, on an iPhone Fold or whatever it's called, just won't do.

From the patent:

An electronic device may have a hinge that allows the device to be flexed about a bend axis. A display may span the bend axis. To facilitate bending about the bend axis without damage when the display is cold, a portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be selectively heated. The portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis may be self-heated by illuminating pixels in the portion of the display that overlap the bend axis or may be heated using a heating element or other heating structure that provides heat to the portion of the display overlapping the bend axis. Control circuitry may engage a latching mechanism that prevents opening and closing of the electronic device when the temperature of the portion of the display that overlaps the bend axis is below a predetermined temperature.

Now, sure. Not all patents turn into products and it's possible Apple has patented this idea just because it can. But I live in hope that there's something going on here and that this, of all Apple patents, gives us an indication that Apple is making sure it can launch foldable without the pitfalls that the likes of Samsung have had to contend with.

After all, Apple is very rarely the first to market with anything. Its iPhone wasn't the first smartphone. Apple Watch wasn't the first smartwatch. Even iPod wasn't the first portable music player. But all of those things build on what other companies created and went on to be best-in-class. I want Apple to do the same with a foldable iPhone, creating something a cut above what we've seen so far and without the foibles of first and second-generation folding Android phones.

I'm hoping this latest patent discover is a sign that's exactly what's in our future. Whenever Apple decides it's ready.

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

2 Comments
  • IIRC, iPod was in fact a first: The first digital music player with a hard drive. Prior players had a very limited flash memory -- could hold an album. First iPod could hold ~15 albums. That was huge.
  • Apple has an app ecosystem that it has to fix before Apple can make a usable foldable, like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 devices, which are the first 2 in 1 smartphones. A smartphone that unfolds to become a tablet. Apple can't make a foldable like that because which app version would users install on a device like that? Would they install the iPad app version or the iPhone app version of the same app? You see Apple went out of their way to encourage their developers to create separate iPhone apps and separate iPad apps. Plus Apple went further with that separation by creating two versions of iOS, one version for iPhones and another version for iPads. Android doesn't have that problem. Because Google from day one encouraged their developers to create one app that supports both smartphones and tablets. Plus one Android OS for both tablets and smartphones. It's why Android has foldable devices that can be both a smartphone and a tablet in one physical device today. Rene as much as you live Apple you will be waiting till kingdom come for Apple to make a 2 in 1 foldable, like Samsung's.